Vanowen and Laurel Canyon: 1931

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From the archives of USC comes these fascinating (Dick Whittington Studio) photos of Vanowen and Laurel Canyon Blvds. in 1931.

What might have become of the vast and verdant emptiness had it been developed with a plan, or a vision, beyond that of buyer and seller and developer?

It would be an intersection harmonious, civilized, aesthetic and humane.

Instead, it is today a monstrous urban carbuncle of cheap, ignorant, lowdown, poisonous ugliness; billboards, traffic, crime, and junk food bake under hot skies and treeless hell.

This lost place wears a name tag provided by the billboard: ignorance.




Foley’s Donuts and North Hollywood (via Japan and Vancouver)

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On a recent visit to Vancouver, I met a naturalized Canadian named Christopher Foley, who by coincidence comes from a family that settled into the San Fernando Valley in the early 1930s. Chris lived in both the SFV and San Francisco and later emigrated to British Columbia.

He showed me, in his digital scrapbook, some fascinating old pictures.

His grandfather, a movie photographer, had moved from West Virginia in the early 1930s to work in the studio system.  Later on, the family opened up a donut shop in North Hollywood called, not surprisingly, “Foley’s”.

His mom, actress Mary Foley, played a band member in “Some Like it Hot” (1959/Dir. Billy Wilder) which starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

His father served in Japan after World War II, and I asked Chris for these fantastic images of his dad and people in that country.

Their clothes, including selvedge denim, are what collectors these days call “Heritage” and are sought after in both Japan and the United States.





Mythical, Magical Valley Relics

On a mythical, magical day, a Saturday, Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement for the Jews, I drove west to Chatsworth, across the Valley.

Dead ahead were the red and rocky Santa Susana Mountains. The temperature was probably about 106. The wind blew. The skies were clear. The air was sparkling. God was silent and beyond sight.

Crisp and fresh and hot were the walls along the new Busway, paralleling Owensmouth, a tidy industrial district north of Woodland Hills where tile shops and auto body stores are housed in flat, one-story windowless buildings. Lush plantings and solar lights line the deluxe bicycle path that is turning the wasteland of the West Valley into a denser, urban, bicycle and bus oriented urban green city.

This place once had two aspirations: asphalt and air conditioning. Pave over acres and erect an air-conditioned office, shopping mall and condo. This is all changing. The pedestrian now is protected, like an endangered species the government wants to propagate. If he is young, he will ride a bike and a bus. If he is old, he will live near shopping and walk to assisted living.

But I digress.

I was passing the future on my way to the past.


Destination was Valley Relics, 21630 Marilla St. Chatsworth CA 91311, begun and run by Tommy Gelinas, a tall, bald, large-footed native of this area who grew up here in the 1970s, and who still bears traces of the druggy, rocky, high and anti-intellectual time that gave birth to our current era. Inked on both arms, footed in Size 13 Nikes, he seems inoculated against age, forever young, curious and energetic.

Burned into him, like the daily sun of the Southland, is a passion for collecting all the signs, photos, yearbooks, cars, matchbooks, postcards and historical junk of the San Fernando Valley. His mission is to make something out of a place that some people think is nothing.

Outside there was a small sign, Valley Relics, and I drove past it, unaware, and had to turn around. I parked and walked up to the entrance. Waiting outside, was a table, and Shane, a tanned, well-built man signing guests into the facility.



Inside, I was hit by a burning blast of red and orange neon signs: gorgeous electrical advertising that once lit up the dark California nights of the San Fernando Valley: Mustang, The Tiffany, Palomino, Outrigger, Liquor.  Names that conjured up mythologies and movies.

The Horseman and The Gambler.

The Surfer and The Drinker.

The San Fernando Valley when it was young and magical, fresh and enchanting.

And people back then acting out lives, buying for their imagined selves.

What exactly was the San Fernando Valley?

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Looking around Valley Relics it was everything from Nudie’s Cadillac Eldorado Convertible decorated with handguns and thousands of silver coins, to an elaborately painted mural covering a VW Bug, KNAC “Pure Rock 105.5”, Dairy Queen and Bob’s Big Boy, Van Nuys Hardware Company, Alcoholics Anonymous; menus from Bailey’s Fresh Frozen Ice Cream, Smokey Joe’s, the Smoke House, Ho-Toy’s Restaurant; and Robert Fulton’s Junior High School Class of 1955.

60 years ago, hardly anyone in the SFV was a Chinese, a Cowboy or a Steamboat Captain, but we lived, ate and educated ourselves in those identities.

There were pictures and blueprints from developer Bob Symonds’ 1951 Valley Plaza and a bright yellow sign from Olsen’s Realty (“Hunting a Deal? Don’t Miss Us!”) at 10640 Sepulveda Blvd, Empire-1-8647.



And lit up again was the yellow, red and green sign from Henry’s Tacos, a beloved and cheap food mediocrity of Mexican beans and burritos which stood on the corner of Moorpark and Tujunga for over 50 years, and was replaced last year by something uglier and less loved.

In war and peace, the San Fernando Valley made money-making war machinery. Tommy spoke about Lockheed, the Burbank based colossus whose WWII weaponry helped defeat Hitler and “The Japs.”

“Lockheed ranked tenth among United States corporations in the value of wartime production contracts.[14] All told, Lockheed and its subsidiary Vega produced 19,278 aircraft during World War II, representing six percent of war production, including 2,600 Venturas, 2,750 B-17 Flying Fortresses (built under license from Boeing), 2,900 Hudsons, and 9,000 Lightnings.[15]”-Wikipedia

War, porn, TV shows, shopping centers, vast home construction on an industrial scale, the history of the San Fernando Valley in the last 70 years is stupendous and enormous.

In the glass cases of Valley Relics, yearbooks, black and white photos, color post cards, and feather-penned letters from Isaac Van Nuys hold ancient history and present it to modern eyes.

Dreamed up and watered by men who marshaled the water resources of California to irrigate this dry land, the San Fernando Valley wears a mask plastic, juvenile, frivolous and fun.

Valley Relics and Tommy Gelinas have lassoed and caught in their hands a crazy and conflicted and fascinating collection of fantastical memorabilia.

Like the universe, it is boundless and still growing, encompassing everything and anything that landed on the ground stretching from Burbank to West Hills, in the years covering the American Century.

It is worth a visit, to see what it was like, and to imagine what it might have been like to live here.

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DePauk Family Photographs in Van Nuys: 1940s and 50s


I had published some of these a few years ago, photographs sent to me by Philip DePauk, a one-time resident of Van Nuys who now lives in Virginia. His family owned a photo studio on Gilmore near Van Nuys Boulevard and his father and uncle also worked for a Ford dealership located here.

These images are both stunning and sad, sad for the lost way of life that once existed here, a gentle place where orange groves and endless vistas promised opportunities and happiness in a state where agriculture, industry and education were all advanced and the envy of the world.

Modern people often dismiss the past by citing the prejudices of that era. Women who could not work. Gays who could not marry. Japanese rounded up during WWII. Blacks and Hispanics who were relegated to ghettos, kept out of the workplace, discriminated against in every sense of the word. These were all bad aspects of law and custom thankfully banished.

Yet our landscape, moral and cultural, is degraded worse today.  This I believe.

This is our present.

Photo by Malingering.

Photo by Malingering.

Photo by Malingering

Photo by Malingering

Photo Credits: Malingering

Living as we do now, in a completely tolerant California, are we not victimized, all of us, by the crude violence, the grossness of language, the vulgarity of dress, the assault of trashy behavior, that demeans all of us?  We live in a Van Nuys that shames us. Some of us react by renaming our neighborhoods Lake Balboa, Sherman Oaks, Valley Glen.  Others just flee by moving away, abandoning Van Nuys Boulevard, crawling deeper into our digital drugs, withdrawing from human interaction which is often uncivilized and often barbaric.

One small example….

On my street, I often see cars parked in the shade. When the drivers move on, what’s left behind are fast food wrappers, cans, and bottles in the gutter.   And at LA Fitness, going to my morning workout,  I see a parking lot littered with junk food from last night’s fitness members.  At the alley next to SavOn, people urinate in broad daylight. Prostitutes walk the street.  And these are just examples of our less violent behavior.

Where is our respect for ourselves and for each other?


Serbers Foods. Hatteras and VNB. This building stood until 2014.

Serbers Foods. Hatteras and VNB. This building stood until 2014.

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1949 snowfall.

1949 snowfall.


In the DePauk Family, typical of that time period, there is a certain modesty to behavior.  There is no “attitude” just hard working, well groomed people who conduct themselves with some decorum.

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And for the generation whose lives were tempered and toughened by the Great Depression and World War Two, a flooding street was a good photo, not a moment for an emotional breakdown and an online fit of anger.


Flooding in Van Nuys, early 1950s.

Flooding in Van Nuys, early 1950s.

The one negative photo in this set, in my mind, is the widening of Victory Boulevard (1954) and the cutting down of trees that once lined the street. For this act of civic “improvement” spelled the end of civilized Van Nuys, making the hot streets hotter, the speeding cars faster, the abandonment of walkable and neighborhood oriented life lost to the automobile.

Widening of Victory Boulevard: 1954.

Widening of Victory Boulevard: 1954.



“Hi, Neighbor” Queen Candidates: May 4, 1951


Officiating at a beauty contest: actor William Demarest who became “Uncle Charlie” on TV’s My Three Sons (1960-72)

“Hi Neighbor” queen candidates at Valley Municipal Building in Van Nuys, CA, May 4, 1951.

Actor William Demarest, Marlene Morrison, Janet Samprenant, Marine Sergeant Bob Fowler.

(Photo: USC Digital Archives)

Van Nuys: 1926



At the corner of 15856 Sherman Way , Van Nuys, 1926.

Wagner-Thoreson appears to be a real estate broker and they are offering one property, a 3-bedroom house at $2350 and another sign advertises 7.5% terms with $1,050 down.

This area today is west of the 405, and just east of Van Nuys Airport.

Photo: USC Digital Archives/ Dick Whittington Collection

Van Nuys Boulevard Cruising: Early 1970s

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Richard McCloskey’s images of Van Nuys Boulevard in the early 1970s, the cruising and the cars, is now for sale at Art Prints.

The photos show young people having a good time while hanging out, congregating on the street, and in the shopping center, which still stands next to Gelson’s on Van Nuys Boulevard.

Cruising, as Kevin Roderick in LA Observed explains, “began before World War II, spread across LA with the car culture of the 1950s and 60s, crested when the baby boomer hordes were at their most numerous and bored, and finally faded after the LAPD shut down the boulevard in the 1980s.”

The GM plant in Panorama City (1947-1991) built many of the cars that roamed the street. It paid its workers well, who in turn bought cars and produced children to drive them.

The cars were fueled by cheap gas (29-33 cents a gallon) which ended after the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo doubled the price of fuel and forced Americans to abandon wasteful muscle cars.

Once the cars were gone, the pretty girls and the gritty guys packed up and went away.

Van Nuys settled into its current state of illegality, drift and decline.